This post was updated on October 26, 2022
Why Use a Wood Deck Brightener
Deckstainhelp.com remains committed to being your number one reference for deck restoration professional tips and industry news. For a beautifully stained wood deck that remains beautiful throughout the season and beyond, we strongly recommend a high-quality wood deck brightener following a cleaner or stripper. As always, we appreciate your input, so feel free to leave a comment below.
Wood deck maintenance is important to the lifespan of any deck. Proper cleaning and staining are necessary on a regular basis to protect the deck from a harsh environment. Prior to staining the surface needs a good cleaning. A clean surface will ensure proper adhesion and stain penetration. Cleaning a wood surface prior to staining will also enhance the beauty of the wood and give you a better end result.
There are several necessary steps in the wood cleaning process to prepare the surface for a new coat of stain. The first step is to clean the wood with a quality wood cleaner to remove all the dirt, grime, mold, mildew, graying, and mill glaze. The aid of a deck cleaner will help break up and remove these contaminants that may prevent the new stain from performing.
Most all quality deck cleaners contain caustic soaps that make cleaning a deck both easier and more effective. The downside to a caustic cleaner is that raises the pH level of the wood and makes it appear very dark in color. Let’s explore some reasons why this is not ideal if not dealt with and how using a deck brightener can restore the wood.
- Deck stains adhere and penetrate the wood better that is more acidic. So when the wood is left with a high pH balance the stain will not penetrate or perform as well as it should. This jeopardizes the longevity of the stain-causing more frequent maintenance and costing you more money.
- The increased pH level also darkens the wood which can affect the overall appearance of the deck even after it is stained.
The way this phenomenon is reversed is to simply apply a neutralizing acid to the wood after cleaning it. This mild acid formula known as deck brightener or deck neutralizer cancels the condition of the caustic soaps and restores the wood’s pH balance to a more neutral or acidic state. This also “brightens” the wood and enhances the wood grain. Once the wood brightener has done its job it can be rinsed off and your prep work is complete.
This two-step cleaning and deck brightening process is the same one used by professional deck cleaners and can give you similar results. It enhances the beauty of your wood deck and ensures you get maximum protection and lasting results from your deck stain.
How To Brighten A Deck Video – DeckStainHelp.com
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As an article and comment contributor to the site, Scott has been around the pressure washing industry since attending college. In 1993 he started his first company called Oakland Pressure Wash specializing in exterior pressure washing and deck staining. That company evolved into OPW L.L.C. shortly thereafter concentrating more on exterior wood and deck restoration. Scott and his Deck Cleaning Michigan company have restored over 10,000 decks in the Metro Detroit area since the early years. He has become an authority in the deck restoration industry and has contributed to numerous wood restoration forums and informative sites.
All the products he suggests through this site are sold through online sites and in retail stores, allowing the consumer to choose their own means of purchase. Scott’s eCommerce sites do sell many top brands he endorses and if you appreciate any of the help he has offered then feel free to purchase from one of them.
Can you please help clarify the order of steps for preparing the deck to apply a new coat of stain? Is it 1. wash, 2. sand, 3. brighten, 4. stain? For the washing, do you need special deck cleaner or is something like dish soap ok? Also, how many days would this all take including drying time, assuming one step per day?
How to prep depends on numerous things. Please see this article and then answer the questions in the comments for proper help.
So technically I think it does not NEED to be sanded based on the stain, but there are several rough spots and splinters and things so for that reason I want to sand it.
I also wanted to ask about for which steps light rain is or is not ok.
Thank you for your help!
No need to sand. Just Strip and Brighten for prep. If you sand, do it after stripping (when dry) and use 60-80 grit paper. Brightener after.
The sanding is to smooth out the wood because there are a lot of rough spots and splinters. I believe I don’t need to strip the old stain – the manufacturer said I can do the same color and finish on top of the old one.
Do I also need to wash? If so, with special deck cleaner or just regular soap? And, wash first, then sand, then brighten then stain?
You cannot spot sand as that means your stain will dry unevenly. Sand all evenly and then clean and brighen after for final prep and to open up the wood grain after the sanding. Use the Defy Prep products or Restore A Deck Prep Products.
Thank you, that helps. Two more questions…the sandpaper should be 60, or 80, or one pass of each? Or does it not matter. Also, how long should I expect the deck to dry after both the washing and the brightening? I only have a narrow window available to me so I don’t want to start if I won’t be able to finish in the time I have.
No more than 60 or 80. One pass is enough. Typically 48 hours after prep to let dry before staining.
We have brightened our very large deck. Now the weather is not cooperating to get it stained. We will be using TWP Pro 100. Is there a timeframe that it needs to get stained?? Will the rain basically undo all the prep we’ve done?
Rain does not harm prep. Stain within a couple of weeks of prep and you should be okay.
I used Twp 1500 natural and it is too “cedar” for my liking. In retrospect I would have used a lighter honeytone. Short of sanding/stripping, is there anyway to lighten the stain color? Would a brightener help on lighten it?
No, it is not possible to lighten a deck stain. You would have to remove it and start over.
Hi I have a treated deck 1 year old and we washed the deck all in one deck cleaner and some furries appeared on the hand rail. It’s been 3 days do we need to sand re clean and add brighter. We didn’t used deck brightner the first time. I don’t think it was clean properly
Lightly sand and then brighten.
We have black-painted aluminum spindles between the top & bottom rails like the deck in the video. Amazing similarity. We were told we must cover with plastic anything we don’t want ruined with the stripper (like those rails and the house siding). It appears, though, that you didn’t do that in this video. WHAT’S THE CATCH? Also, since our deck was previously stained, most of the rails and uprights do not need to be stripped, only cleaned. We don’t want to add unneccessary work.
You do not have to cover the house as it will not remove paint. Just prewet and rinse as you work.
Can I just use a wood brightener without using a deck cleaner?
There would be no point to do that.
After I applied the Woodsman deck brighter can I walk on my deck? Manufactures says I need to wait 48 hours before applying stain. I just put the deck brightener on today. But to use the main door in & out of my house is by walking on the deck. Wondering if it is OK if I walk on the deck. I plan to use the side door after I stain it. But for now….?
Yes, you can walk on the wood.
Hello, I’m currently refinishing my deck. I started with applying deck stripper and pressure washing it. I just finished sanding. Do I need to use a deck cleaner? Or can I just use a brightener? I’m using Cabot products. Thank you!
Clean and brighten is best as it will open up the wood grain and the stain will soak in deeper.
You say rinse the brightener for 20-30 min. How would you do this for a deck it would take 8 hours to spend 30 min on each Section. I’m confused.
20-30 minutes total for the entire deck. Just rinse very well.
Our deck is still good for stain but needs a good cleaning. I was advised to use a deck brightened. If I do this do I need to reapply stain?
You should only use a deck cleaner or wood brightener if you plan to recoat. They are not used for general cleaning.
What in theory is the natural pH pf Cedar fence/deck wood? How does one (DIY) check it? I am in midst of restoring a cedar fence, and soon a deck, both of which surround a pool, so I am familiar with checking ph of pool water. On my fence so far, step one, 30 second outdoor cleaner, diluted 2:1 (5% bleach) with a general pH of 11. It made a huge difference in the appearance of the wood immediately, and literally as I was applying it. Step 2 Granular oxalic acid diluted 12 oz / 4 gallons of water. I’ll take a guess, and say a pH of 4-5. Both steps have been applied with a pump sprayer and, rigorously rinsed multiple times. No pressure washer, just a hose. I have some stubborn random black stains remaining, either tannins, or remnants of black mold, tough to tell. What next for those stains? Perhaps less diluted oxalic, and spot treat? The last step in my plan is a light application of brightener to neutralize, but what should be the target ph of the wood? Strangely, the troublesome stains are on sides of the fence exposed to direct sunlight the most. The more shaded sides came out great using steps one, and two. Any thoughts would be appreciated.
pH should be neutral or around 6. You do not need to check the wood pH, just use a wood brightener after the prep. BTW, the 30 Second Cleaner is basically bleach and is not a very good cleaner.
Can Cabot wood deck brighter be applied in the rain
Not pouring rain but light rain.
What product is recommended for treating 4 year old previously untreated deck, Pine.
Restore A Deck Cleaner and Brightener Kits: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/restore-a-deck-cleaner-system-review/
Hi – I am getting ready to apply new stain to old deck that has a solid stain that is chipping. The new stain will be a semi transparent Arborcoat. I was going to sand off the existing finish, brighten, then apply the new stain. Will that work or do I need to power wash somewhere in between these steps?
Sand off fully first. Use a deck cleaner while pressure washing and then a wood brightener after. You might want to reconsider your choice of stain: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/tag/benjamin-moore-arborcoat/
Thank you so much!
We took a Behr deck over off this summer and had to sand a lot and used an acid wash first. We recently used a cleaner and it looks washed out. Time is getting away, should we get a stain on it or wait until spring. It’s a pool deck, what do you suggest that is not slippery. Don’t want paint or solid. Was thinking TWP. First Thompson’s was very slippery.
Wait until Spring, prep with TWP’s Gemini Restore Kit, and then stain with the TWP.
We are in MO will ice ruin the deck, it’s about 6 years old. Is TWP a good option for a pool deck, as far as slippery and hotness. What is the advantage to wait. Thank you.
Ice or snow will not harm the deck. No point in rushing it, just wait until Spring. TWP is a penetrating stain so it is not slippery. No deck stain can prevent heat from the sun. That is more of a color issue. Darker colors will retain the heat more than lighter colors.
Use brightener on a wet or dry deck?
Wet and as soon as you are down with the cleaner.
Hi, I could not find a similar question/answer response elsewhere in the forum, so here it goes:
I had put on 2 coats of PPG Weatherscreen solid color deck stain two years ago. It looked awful after this summer. We’re in the Chicago area.
I pressure washed with just water (only 2,000 psi) first. This removed a fair amount of the old stain.
Today, I got a floor sander and went across the deck and it really helped removing the old deck stain except for the edges where floor boards terminate at the spindles. The boards in the main portion of the deck look brand new.
First question: Do I need to hand sand or use NaOH based stripper and remove every smidge of old deck stain along perimeter? There’s probably 2″ to 3″ of old deck stain in those deck corners and super close to the house (just couldn’t reach there).
Second question: Regardless of answer to #1, do I still need to rent pressure washer again and use a cleaning product in the pressure washer and then do a brightening? Or can I do manual scrub brush with cleaner and then brightening?
Third question: Do I have to clean/brighten after sanding? Or can I just move on to painting?
I am planning on putting down Perma Bond and then Deck Revive.
Thanks so much for your website!
If using the Permabond and Deck Revive you would need to pressure wash only for final prep with no prepping products. This is per their instructions. Make sure any solid stain that is left is fully intact to the wood. If so, you can then use the Permabond and Deck Revive. If some solid stain is still loose/pelling, then spot sand that off first.
Thanks for your super fast response. Follow up clarification questions for you:
Just water in the pressure wash, correct?
Is that to rinse away the sanding particulates?
Just water to rinse and open the wood pores.
My deck is approximately 25 years old. After I applied a chemical stripper to the deck and power-washed it, there were still traces of stain (solid stain), and a lot of the wood was “raised.” Consequently, I sanded the deck with 60 grit. Now, the deck is down to bare wood and the wood is smoother, but sections of the deck boards look almost white (from oxidation?).
What next steps should I take before applying a semi-transparent oil-based stain? Use a cleaner and brightener? Brightener only? Other? (If cleaner and brightener are recommended, what brands?)
NOTE: I‘ve replaced a few of the oldest, worn boards with brand new.
Probably best to wait until next Spring to let the new wood season and then clean and brighten all wood: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/how-long-should-you-wait-to-stain-a-new-deck/
Great! Thank you. Followup question:
Do you think the white streaks in the older wood will come out after cleaning and brightening? Or perhaps it doesn’t matter—the semi-transparent stain will cover it?
It should even out.
I want to restain a rainbow play set. I power washed, but do I need to cleaner and brightner too. Also, last time I stained I purchased the stain directly from Rainbow. Would it be an issue if I tried a Cabot semitransparent stain or go with same original stain which they private label
You will need to strip and brighten to switch brands. Clean and brighten if staying the same.
I want to restain a rainbow play set. It’s been power washed. Do I need a cleaner and brightner or can go head and apply stain
About a month ago (maybe longer?) we started prepping our deck and used Woodrich Heavy Duty Wood Deck Stripper. The results were less than stellar. :/ Anyway, we’re *finally* ready to stain and plan on using Flood Solid Stain; it will be going over old water-based stain. Do we still need to clean & brighten before applying the stain, given how long it was since we used the stripper?
Just a good cleaning should be okay.
Using a commercial cleaner? Or do you mean we can just hose it down?
Pressure washing with a deck cleaner.
Would I then not need to use the brightener as well?
No need this time.
I cleaned and then brightened my deck. Some cleaner or brightener was on my hose and made marks. What should I do?
You probably need to redo both steps and use a non-marking hose.
Is there a deck brightened brand your recommend?
Restore A Deck or Defy brands.
Is it possible to not brighten/clean A deck before applying stain?
No. You always have to prep.
We Have a Meranti Deck in inland Los Angeles. The deck was cupped a bit due to a poor installation, fasteners fixed, and sanded flat with 60 grit (certainly not smoothie ). The deck finisher said to just clean off any saw dust thoroughly which was done. we applied a coat of Cutek Extreme with a light colortone to a portion of the deck and it looks quite dark and dull. Should I have followed up with 80 grit? Or should I have used a cleaner then brightener after sanding prior to staining?
*smoothie=smooth. Sorry for the typo.
The final color is not due to the prep but the wood or stain itself.
Hello – My husband and I had a pine deck installed last summer, and just went in and pressure washed Everything on the internet is saying to use cleaners, and then sand, and then use a brightener, rinse and THEN stain. Are all these steps needed? When we did the pressure washing (just water), it looks like it cleaned the deck great. There are no grey spots, or obvious dirty areas. Do we really need to go in and sand it all down, put on a brightener, and THEN stain it? Or will we be ok just staining it with our semi-transparent, oil based stain?
— (first time – non-handy home owners)
You do not have to sand but you should use a cleaner and a wood brightener.
Hi..pressure washed a 12 yr old treated pine deck with bleach and dawn. The floor of deck is so light now. Ugh..should i use a brightener? Will 2 coats of semi transparent make it darker? The rails are a little darker. Didnt use bleach on them. Or should I go with a semi solid?
Ok will wait till tomorrow and post pics. This site is amazing! I will be using Armstrong Clark stain. Thanks
Use a semi-transparent. Two coats wet on wet. Any color.
Will it even out color? Ik i am overthinking this bc it will be faded in a few months bc we are in full sun. Thats why i was looking at a semi solid but we have a pool as well
It highlights the wood grain and shows the color based on the grain of the wood. It is not a solid color.
Sorry but semi trans or semi solid? So with either i will still not have a uniform color? I thought semi solid wd make it closer to solid
Semi-solid would get ti close but both will have different color variances.
I hate my life..lol..ok thanks
This is a great site! I have quick Q for you. I want to restain my old deck. The previous owner used semi transparent Cabot oil based stain. I like the color and want to keep it same. I was going to use defy cleaner , power wash, lightly sand with 100 grit pole extension sander, followed by defy brightner and then apply the cabot stain.
Is this sequence right? I would appreciate if you can provide any input. Thanks
Yes, that should work if using the same stain brand and color.
We’ve laid our new deck and let it weather for a month. The wood is now dry so we cleaned with a wood cleaner/brightener. As were rinsing there seems to be endless bubbles. What happens if some are left behind? We’ve been rinsing for hours. Will the stain be blotchy?
You are staining this too soon: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/staining-a-new-deck/
Wait until Fall and redo the prep with a proper clean and wood brightener.
Hi I just cleaned and brightened my fairly new redwood deck. It’s been sitting for 24 hours and appears quite dry. Can I apply a clear sealer at this point? Restore a deck recommends waiting for 48 hours when using a sealer that is not made by them. I’m using Cabot sealer. I’m going with natural wood finish. IE no stain.
Clear sealers have zero UV protection from graying. Do you want your wood to gray naturally in months? If not then you need a stain: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/staining-a-new-deck/
I power washed my deck and did not need to use any chemicals to help remove the old stain off the deck. I was wondering if I still need to wash my deck with a cleaner and then brighten? Or was the power washing enough?
Post a picture.
I pressure washed my fence and it became fuzzy. It’s also still discoloured and uneven.
What steps should I do next? Clean, brighten, sand then stain. Do I need to clean and brighten?
Use a deck cleaner and then pressure wash off. Brightener after. We would not worry about the fuzzies as your wood is rough sawn.
I can stain on this texture
After you reclean to remove the graying and then using the brightener.
Thank you for your reply!
Installed new treated pine deck floor and railings summer of 2019. Preparing to stain in May of 2020. I used deck cleaner and ‘Restore A Deck’ brightener. Two days after brightener, much of the wood turned green, or in other words,
the brightener brought the color of the chemicals used to treat the wood. It looks terrible and I’m afraid to proceed with stain. What do I do??
A brightener does not bring the color of the pressure treated chemicals out. They were are already there and honestly, there is both anything that you can do. Just go ahead and stain.
My deck is cleaned and all stain removed. My question is can I put a water sealer over the brightener?
Not over a stain if that is what you mean. A sealer will not work for UV protection, you need a stain. https://www.deckstainhelp.com/the-5-best-deck-stain-reviews-and-ratings/
Do I have to use a brightener after using a generic Oxiclean solution and power washing? I did not use a stripping agent. Thanks!
It would help.
What is your opinion on sanding, particularly for an older neglected wood deck? Should it be done and at what step (between cleaning & brightening, for instance)?
After cleaning. Brighten last.
What is your opinion on the all-in-one cleaners with brightener?
You cannot have a cleaner and brightener together in this same product. They would cancel each out and not be effective. This is just marketing with the name and all that is in these products is bleach and that is bad for wood.
I asked Restore A Deck if you can mix their cleaner and brightener together in a 5 gallon bucket and they said I could.
That is incorrect info. You cannot mix the two together and have to be used separately. Mixing together would make the products ineffective as they would cancel each other out.
Here’s their reply to my question:
Joe bernardy · 05/15/2020
Can you mix the cleaner and brightener in on 5 gal bucket of water?
RAD Products · 05/15/2020
You can mix them in a bucket but not together. You did not ask them about “mixing together” in your question.
I have a question. I use a pressure washer – surface cleaner to clean the wood deck first. It is a commercial pressure washer 4000 psi @ 4 gpm that makes the deck look brand new. The wood is very bright and clean after use. I do not use a deck cleaner. Therefore the PH balance of the wood is not compromised. Do i still need to use a deck brightener? One more question. Do you need to use brightener for dark semi transparent stains? I would think if i am using a pressure washer for cleaning, maybe use the brightener for transparent stains only. Any advice would be great.
The Brightener is needed to neutralize a cleaner or stripper. In your scenario, you would not need it unless you have some stains in the wood such as from leaves and you wanted to get those out.
The color of the stain does not matter, you always should brighten if you used a deck cleaner or stain stripper.
We have a beautiful cypress fence going up in Florida. The cypress sawmill recommended a boric acid solution followed by oil based stain. My husband has had great success on a previous treated pine fence with the Defy product line- 3 step cleaner, brightener, then water based stained. We want to use a transparent or semi-transparent tintable stain. (Posts and lattice are solid stained treated pine.)
Which route do you recommend and why?
If oil based, which brand is best?
How long must we wait for the wood to “season” before application?
Please remove previous photo. Mistakenly posted wrong photo with contractor present. Here is correct photo.
See this about new wood and about the wait and what stains to use: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/staining-a-new-deck/
My first attempt at stripping the deck was not completely successful, so I did not brighten right after stripping (though I did rinse thoroughly). I plan to repeat stripping in areas where old stain is still there. But, it’s raining so the second stripping step is delayed. Question : Will the rain neutralize the deck? Or, should I apply brightener to the whole deck once I re-strip the remaining spots? Thanks
Brighten all after you finish the stripping.
What’s best brightened ? I used Sherwin Williams deck stain remover followed instruction. I want to use Australian timber oil after. What do you think? It’s a covered porch in New England
Use Restore A Deck Wood Brightener. We are not fans of the Cabot since they changed the formula. Better brands out there: https://www.deckstainhelp.com/the-5-best-deck-stain-reviews-and-ratings/
I used Sherwin Williams deck stain remover it was a thick consistency , it is dark and doesn’t appear to be that clean? What brightened should I use? I want to use Australian oil after it’s a large surface so I’m nervous
Hi there, trying to decide on an Armstrong semi-transparent color. Ordered the samples and applied to some scrap wood, but they all look the same on the scrap wood (pressure treated pine like my deck, not as weathered as my deck). Will wood brightener affect the color of the applied stain?
No, not by much.
I just striped that brand stain off my Cumaru deck after 3 years. it was a brutile job.
AC is extremely easy to strip if ever needed.
I have started using a Behr all in one deck cleaner/brightener on some 20 year old unstained Ipe and it seems to be working for stain prep. Can I trust the ph balance or should I look for a 2 step system elsewhere?
We like the 2-step kits.
Will wood brighter damage vinyl siding and windows ?
No, it should not.
Thank you, I appreciate you getting back to me 😊
Love the forum. Any thoughts on using Barkeeper’s friend as a brightening agent? It contains oxalic acid which I guess is in many wood brighteners. I’ve tried looking at Lowe’s and Menards for wood brightener but surprisingly they don’t have it and it’s a little more expensive online so I’m looking for an alternative. Thanks!
Sorry but never tried it.
Trying to maintain a deck that takes a beating. It’s 5/4 cedar decking. I replaced some rotten boards with new cedar and want to use a brightener to eliminate mill glaze. My concern is what the brightener might do to the older existing boards that are adjacent to the new boards. The old boards have a semi-transparent, water-based stain. will the brightener effect the stained boards? Thanks!
Brightener does not harm stain.
Scrubbed down my deck with an oxygen bleach solution because it had black mold on it. This was a couple weeks ago. Had to sand it all down but didn’t want to sand the mold too. The wood is now sanded and all nice and bright for the most part but there are still little black spots in the wood but I cannot sand them all away. I intend to put a semi solid oil based stain on it. Since the finish had worn quite a bit in a lot of places the oxygen bleach solution did get on to bare wood in places. Do I need to use an acidic brightener on the deck before staining? It has rained several times since the scrubbing. Also, are the little black spots in the wood going to cause a problem with the stain? I don’t think rescrubbing the deck now that it’s sanded is going to get rid of these little spots. If I do need to rescrub it, do I have to resand? Sorry for all the questions… this is my first battle with a wood deck!
Post some pictures.
Here’s a picture. Would appreciate your comments. The question about the brightener should have said I was concerned about the need to adjust pH after using the oxygenated bleach for the scrub. Thanks
I believe the black spots is old stain that did not come off with your prep. To remove them you would need to strip and then brighten the wood. You could stain over them but hard to say if it will show through or not. Depends on the color you choose. At this point, no need to brighten unless you strip the deck.
I power washed an older cedar fence and ended up sanding it as I did like the surface. It looks great now. Should I use deck brightener and how long do I have to wait before I stain?
Clean and brighten for prep. You can then stain.
Hi, we just cleaned our pressure treated pine deck with a solution of oxi-clean, borax, dawn detergent, and water. It is several years old and previously had no stain on it. It had significant algae and mildew staining. What is your advice on whether or not we need to apply deck brightener? Thanks!
It would not hurt to brighten it.